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How Student-Centricity and Substantive Interaction Take CBE to the Next Level

The EvoLLLution | How Student-Centricity and Substantive Interaction Takes CBE to the Next Level
Online modalities offer plenty of opportunities for faculty to connect with students and provide them with the meaningful interactions that transform their learning experience from everyday to extraordinary.
Many people often question whether online teaching in a competency-based education (CBE) program can have the same impact on students’ lives as face-to-face teaching or traditional online programs. My answer is that it absolutely can. It is up to the student and teacher to make the online experience an enriching one. I have been teaching in Brandman University’s CBE program for two and a half years, and it has been a wonderful opportunity to positively impact students’ lives. We instructors interact with students through milestone posts, discussion-board posts, final-assessment preparation, online-meeting platforms, conferences and graduation.

Brandman University’s CBE program, or MyPath as we call it, is fully online. As with all other CBE programs, students proceed at their own pace. We have business and information technology undergraduate programs, and we are about to launch a master’s program in organizational leadership. One unique aspect of the program is that all of the CBE faculty (a small group) practically comprise a school ourselves, since we oversee information technology, business, humanities, and sciences. We get to see students grow, since they take several competencies with us. Students take competencies with different modules: for example, information literacy has an American Psychological Association formatting section, just as in a traditional course. My title is Tutorial Assistant Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences. Some of the competencies I teach include oral communications, written communications, and behavior and cognition, which is my favorite, since I have seen many students grow personally and professionally while taking it.

There are several ways in which we interact with students, with milestone posts being the newest type of interaction. Throughout the competencies, students answer posts that show they have been reading the material. They also usually apply the material to their own lives: for example, a prompt for a political post might state, “What are some ways the reading says you can get involved in politics? Are you involved in politics in your daily life?” When they apply the material to themselves, it gives them a better opportunity to absorb it. I either affirm the post and include comments, or ask for more clarity and wait to affirm it. I do this based on a rubric to make sure they thoroughly answered the questions.

Discussion-board posts are another way in which we interact with students. Since students go through the Brandman CBE program at their own pace, the discussion board is something that brings them together. They leave a trail behind that people who come after them can follow. I can comment and add ideas to the thread as well.

I communicate a lot with students in preparation for the final assessment if they choose to reach out to me. Sometimes I encourage them to work with me if they do not pass the final assessment on their own. Final assessments can include tests, papers, projects, and recorded videos (for oral communications). It is neat to see the students present their recorded projects. They are also required to present in front of an audience, so they can get used to public speaking. One great oral communications project involved a student who was a mayor, who used the course for his upcoming campaign to improve his speeches. Another student did his presentation on dog training, using his pet dog as an example. Another student did a SWOT analysis for behavior and cognition and got a new job, achieving a goal she had set out for herself when she started the project. I get to know students well in some of these final assessments because many of their papers can get pretty detailed. Just because interaction is online does not negate its meaningfulness. Everyone has been through something difficult in their life, and we should all remember that when we interact with one another.

I get to know my students well through our online meeting room, Adobe Connect. We get to view their papers together in this program, we can see each other on video, and we talk through the computer microphone. One of my students told me he was creating experiences for his written communications reflection essay. He had come up with an idea for his paper when he was abroad, and was bouncing ideas off me so he could put our conversations into the paper. He was so excited about his ideas. I loved hearing him get so into the project!

I met one of my students at the CBExchange Conference. My student was on a panel and she mentioned me in her comments. I was touched. This was a special experience because it made me realize I have had a significant impact on these students, even though the program is online.

I recently met one of the first program graduates at graduation. It was so nice to see him there. He had been a wonderful student, and he was so excited about continuing. I got the feeling that he will enroll in our master’s program.

Faculty members are not the only ones who interact with the CBE students. The different departments that interact with CBE students include accessible education and counseling services, librarians, enrollment coaches, one-stop specialists, academic coaches, and tutors from the writing and math centers. There is a whole team here to help the students if they reach out and use these resources. When students access the writing center, I see a significant improvement in their writing.

My colleagues and I facilitate the kinds of substantive interaction that make a difference in our students’ educational experiences. Our program is special because students are getting so much one-on-one interaction with the professors. This is not usually the case in other programs. I make myself available to the students and they can come to me whenever they like. I know many of the students are working and going to school, so I try to work around their schedules. My colleagues and I are all very student-centered. We can make the time to assist students because they are going through at different paces, so we do not usually get bombarded with several projects at once. Brandman’s CBE program gives students the tools they need to take them to the next level. I have seen this firsthand, and it is incredibly rewarding!

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